Eilean Hooper-Greenhill in her book Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture introduced the idea of the post-museum, a site where the exhibition is only one form of museum communication. Distinct from the conventional museum space, a museum web-site has the potential to extend the action range of the museum; to represent the ‘realities’ of its physical spaces and a means to take museum information and expertise out of the museum walls, and into the everyday lives of new and existing audiences. In this post, I will examine the home of the national collections of British art and international modern art Tate online. By exploring the different online ‘spaces’ and contexts of interaction that Tate provides, I will assess whether Tate’s online media can reach new audiences and engage with existing ones, ‘translate’ and deliver its mission and aims into the digital spaces of the website, and overcome the physical boundaries of its art galleries to bridge the knowledge that it holds of art beyond its walls and into these different digital spaces.
The Tate website was launched in 1998 to concentrate the information of all four physical Tate galleries, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool and Tate St. Ives. Following the development of the Tate Online Strategy 2010-12 the website was relaunched for the first time in 2012 with a complete restructure of the site’s content.
My initial journey as a visitor of Tate’s online space began with its homepage where I was presented with information relating to current exhibitions, events in the galleries and current Tate recommendations. Here I think Tate has attempted to bridge its on-site and online spaces by introducing its content in a brochure type style, displaying just the necessary information to encourage visitors to prepare and extend visits to one of its physical sites. This would be ideal for the prospective on-site visitor looking for activities and potential things to see and do.
On closer examination of Tate’s homepage, I failed to observe a statement of its mission and aims or even their priorities. To uncover this involved a lengthy process of navigation where I was then presented with further categories and subcategories of information. Here I think that Tate has created online spaces which could easily intimidate the online visitor who is motivated and looking for something specific. It could even be considered here that because Tate online does not make its information readily available, it makes it less accessible and user-friendly for new and even existing audiences. How could Tate possibly ‘translate’ these missions and aims into the digital spaces of the website when they are not made explicit to begin with?
When I finally discovered Tate’s mission it was to promote the public understanding and enjoyment of British, modern and contemporary art. Here, Tate’s digital media will become the dimension of everything it does, an important channel for publishing its content and for creating an interactive platform for engaging existing and new audiences for art. Outlined in Tate Digital Strategy 2013-15: Digital as a Dimension of Everything, its collections are key to the online experience, situated at the heart of its website with a prominent position in the on-site navigation.
Art and Artists (Tate’s online collection) is the most visited area of the website with approximately 40% of users visiting these pages during their visit. Here, online visitors are given the opportunity to explore Tate’s national collection of British art from 1500 to the present day and international modern, and contemporary art including over 70,000 artworks by over 3,000 artists. In this space, Tate successfully presents each piece in ‘Perspective’ functionality; enabling the same art work to be viewed and utilised in different ways. For example, the user with a high art knowledge is offered thorough artwork details, display captions and catalogue entries. For the visual and aesthetic user Tate displays each piece in near full-screen resolution including related images and slide-show functionalities. Even those visitors looking for information about which artworks are on display to plan or remember a visit are offered information regarding a pieces location, theme and room details. I think Tate has created a virtual context that overlaps with the realities of its physical spaces by creating a place of time, space, and engagement with the collection in the online galleries, translating its mission and aims into this digital space without it necessarily being realised by its audiences but achieved regardless.
Beyond its online spaces, Tate has generated a presence for itself within popular mobile media creating applications aimed to interact and discover more about art, artists and Tate exhibitions. One example of this is the Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms, an art dictionary for the Apple iPad and iPhone. In theory, I think that Tate has transferred its information and art knowledge into a portable commodity, allowing existing and new audiences to experience Tate beyond the physical spaces of its galleries and into a feature of their daily lives to engage with at their discretion. However, upon closer examination I found that the majority of its applications are limited to Apple products which also include a price tag, something which I think many would find unappealing. I cannot help but question here how Tate can cater to its audiences and translate its missions when it is not necessarily exclusive to all.
More than just a brochure that encourages day excursions, Tate online is a destination in its own right. Its online collections bridge the gap between its physical, online and mobile spaces by distributing its extensive art knowledge to all potential audiences, catering to them at a variation of intellectual and emotional levels. Whilst the concepts of accessibility and exclusivity can certainly be questioned here, by visiting the website and acknowledging its pieces, the audiences are creating their own personal journey of engagement and enjoyment with art, which ironically is Tate’s mission all along.
Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture (Museum Meanings) (London: Routledge, 2000).
Tate Online, http://www.tate.org.uk/ [accessed on 2/12/2014]